Ma Xingrui, governor of the Guangdong province, and until now the counterpart of the Canton of Zurich in the subnational relationship between the Swiss Canton and Guangdong, has been assigned the role of party secretary of Xinjiang province, handing over the baton to Wang Weizhong.
Ma, a technocrat who served as governor of the country’s economic powerhouse Guangdong since 2017, is widely expected among foreign “China commentators” to strengthen the economic aspect in Xinjiang’s development, without changing the broader policy direction including the internationally criticized ethnic policy towards the Uyghur minority altogether. Given that the position of party secretary of Xinjiang has traditionally been reserved for Politburo members, a promotion from the Central Committee can be expected for Ma. Also, Xi Jinping has shown appreciation for technocrats without factional affiliations such as Ma in the past.
His successor, Wang Weizhong, previously served as the party secretary of Shenzhen. Since 2017, Wang had led Shenzhen, a municipal high-tech hub in the Greater Bay Area (GBA) and since 2015 the sister region of the Canton of Berne. Wang (59) is currently an alternate member of the Central Committee and shares a technical background with Ma, holding a master’s degree in hydrology and having spent most of his career in the Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). Before being sent to Shenzhen, he served as Deputy Minister of MOST. In this capacity, Wang spent half a year in Harvard as a senior research fellow at the Kennedy School of Government.
Staying true to his mindset, Wang, a policymaker used to dealing with topics of innovativeness all day in his MOST time, launched the ‘Shenzhen Comprehensive Pilot Demonstration Zone for Socialism with Chinese Characteristics (2020-2025)’, a project with national prestige endorsed by Xi himself.
During his time as Shenzhen’s party chief, Wang also widely travelled internationally – e.g. to Germany, the US, the UK, the UAE or Finland –, promoting the GBA, looking for strategic partners in government as well as academia as well as wooing potential investors.
On a last trip to Germany in June 2019 before the pandemic hit, Wang witnessed the signing of cooperative deals by Siemens, BYD and the Shenzhen University of Technology, ranging from technology incubation to vocational education, as well as with companies in the areas of Fintech, industry 4.0, high-end manufacturing and technological innovation.
Among the international cooperation projects he oversaw in Shenzhen, Wang also supported the establishment of the Swiss Innovation Centre Shenzhen, a collaboration (MoU) between the Berne University of Applied Sciences and the Shenzhen University of Technology that inaugurated in July 2021.
Ma Xingrui has personally played a prominent role in driving the relationship between Guangdong and the Canton of Zurich, a partnership signed in 2013 and further deepened in 2020, seeking to advance cooperation in particular in the fields of finance, technology, environment and education.
Given Shenzhen is part of Guangdong and inherently exposed to its subnational diplomacy, as well as the fact that Wang is also of a technocratic background like Ma, continuity in Guangdong’s conduct of its foreign affairs can reasonably be expected. Also, Li Xi, the party secretary of Guangdong, is not changing job, further contributing to policy continuity.
Moving forward, particular attention should be placed on the science and technology agenda of Wang, as in this post he is expected to augment one of China’s most entrepreneurial manufacturing regions more towards science-based innovation and by doing so realizing the so-called “from zero to one” innovation that Xi Jinping is so urgently calling for. Guangdong is thus poised to become an even more attractive partner for international innovation cooperation.
Caixin: 人事观察︱马兴瑞任新疆书记 王伟中候任广东省长 (CVs Ma and Wang)
WEE: Cashback- und Mobile Payment-Systen „Wee“ vor Markteintritt in China (Wang Weizhong on business trip to Germany)
Canton of Zurich: Regierungsratsbeschluss Nr. 801/2013 (MoU)